Thursday, February 27, 2014

Yet Another Year at the Theater

2013, that is.


This is 40
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Zero Dark Thirty
Rust and Bone
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)


Warm Bodies


56 Up
Like Someone in Love


Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II (1991)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
The Place Beyond the Pines
Night Across the Street
War Witch


Upstream Color
Iron Man 3
The Great Gatsby
The General (1925)
Star Trek Into Darkness
Spring Breakers
At Any Price


Frances Ha
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) (1966)
This is the End
Something in the Air
Jurassic Park (3D) (1993)
Before Midnight
Monsters University


From Up on Poppy Hill
Sunrise (1927)
Pacific Rim


The Purge
I’m So Excited
The Way, Way Back
Fruitvale Station
The World’s End


The Spectacular Now
Blue Jasmine
Pacific Rim
Despicable Me 2
Husbands (1968)


Maniac (1980)
Clue (1985)
Shaun of the Dead (2003)
The Heat
Don Jon
Viva Knievel (1977)
Captain Phillips


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Criss Cross (1949)
12 Years a Slave
Thor: The Dark World
My Old Fiddle (1970) / A Well Spent Life (1994)
Dallas Buyers Club
Run Silent Run Deep (1958)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


After Hours (1985)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Fear and Desire (1953) / Killer’s Kiss (1955)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
American Hustle
Enough Said
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lolita (1962)

= 70 times

A little off my 2012 pace. I was a much better moviegoer, and enjoyed going to movies more, in Albuquerque. It’s that kind of place. But even now, the theater still accounts for maybe 80% of the movies I see, a figure that’s as absurd as it is unlikely to change.

Brief notes, mostly reactionary edition

Anytime Almodovar gets less than enthusiastic reviews you can bet someone’s wrong. This take on I’m So Excited has the right attitude.

I’m telling you for the last time (for posterity now): The real subject of The Spectacular Now is a secret, apparently, but it’s discoverable (amusingly so, in hindsight) in all those shots in the trailer that show the main character’s giant soda cup. I like the visual weight of a cup as a crutch, and also the way the movie handles its subject, in a non-alarmist way that’s not new for teen movies (recently, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) but that seems surprising when the central issue is an ordinarily adult one.

Dallas Buyers Club makes sense as an Oscar movie, now that it’s become one, but I also want to remind people that two of its key emotional scenes feature Bradford Cox (dancing, then crying), so there are infinities of real-life ways to watch it. Also, Matthew McConaughey in a room full of butterflies, and an early 80s Dallas gay bar – two places the movies had never taken me before.

The “Nebraska condescends” line is routine at best, overcompensatory at worst (for what?), i.e. none of the critics have our backs, really. The movie features some gross caricature, obviously, but that’s also when it’s funny. The rest of the time, I enjoyed its consideration of the parent/child (not father/son!) gulf and its loving mock-deflation of the romantic attitude toward Montana (et al) usually found in major motion pictures (A River Runs Through It, Don’t Come Knocking). Maybe just because I could point to the scene in front of the Billings bus station and say, “I’ve been there,” I got the notion that Nebraska couldn’t have existed before Breaking Bad set new rules for location shooting. Either way, the Jimmy Johns magnet on Will Forte’s fridge – now that’s set decoration!

Probably due to some aspect of the two films’ production schedules, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, for its first half-hour, is as helpless as An Unexpected Journey to show us a single interesting image, but then, sometime around the spider sequence, visual competence rushes in and the effect is sudden clarity (not to be confused with digital crispness), the kind Bilbo experiences when he gets a breath of fresh air from above the forest. Later, Smaug is a magnificent creation, and he’s framed well too, and there’s even a scene in his lair, with Bilbo standing diminished in the center of a wide field of gold (and I think a well-placed eye on the left), that reminded me of Méliès.

Unlike the artist who gives the movie its title, nothing very bad happens to the characters in Gimme The Loot. They’re protected by some invisible buffer, or maybe not so invisible: I was thrown by the title, but it applies, even if its source doesn’t, and it’s probably just something the characters tell themselves, anyway. So, there’s talk of turf but all anyone sells is pot and all anyone gets is mugged (with hilariously devastating frequency, in one case). One character loses his shoes while his friend gains a pair elsewhere, but the movie goes for detail, not for tidy plotting, so the two events don’t converge to offer a solution. It’s very loose, inheriting its sense of vitality and city ambience either from earlier, somewhat better movies (Raising Victor Vargas, maybe) or else its distinctly advantageous amateur quality and hugely appealing “non” actors.

There’s no theory that could possibly unify the various parts of Lee Daniels’ The Butler into a coherent or even incoherent camp classic, a fascinating outsider-as-insider anomaly, etc., but time might clarify. Parts of it really are nothing more than standard and unimaginative historical backdrop drama (though the sit-in/place setting crosscut sequence is particularly imaginative and thrilling). And yet, all the domestic scenes, all the scenes with Oprah, and Oprah herself (so great), these demand to be seen always by some segment of viewers, however small, with whatever various desires and impulses, while the stuff that surrounds these things will probably look like an increasingly odd and irrelevant frame as time goes on.

The Bling Ring:


I somehow didn’t expect much from Run Silent Run Deep as a war movie, but it’s got a death (of a pretty blond innocent, of course) so harrowing, morbid, irredeemable, you’d think it was made ten years later in a spirit of protest.

This time through Barry Lyndon, I just kept thinking of life as a series of connections and relationships that can be shaken off, tossed aside, escaped from under, until eventually they can’t and you’re stuck with those people, that life. Except not really, because even when Barry finally gets in too deep (a family), even then, he ends up disgracefully shuffling back to his earliest existence. After such reflections, the ending “moral” is a doozy.

This will seem a dead point, as history has rightly adjudged the greatness of Eraserhead and the awfulness of Dune, but as complementary programming, I found it funny the way these two Lynch movies suggest the acceptable parameters of weirdness and incomprehensibility for mainstream audiences. That is to say, Eraserhead is much easier to follow on an intuitive level (and anyone who’s ever seen the Little Tramp in action, for example, will be quickly struck by the clarity of the movie’s references and gestures), but Dune gets the money, gets seen, because the faults of its storytelling, however disastrous, can be chalked up to accident. I’m not sure if they apply in the Lynch universe, but there is a kind of audience that won’t take any responsibility for its own viewership, but will forgive any amount of moviemaking laziness, because hey, at least it was supposed to be a ripping yarn.

Ten favorite movies, 2013

1. Frances Ha*
2. Pacific Rim
3. 12 Years a Slave
4. Computer Chess
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. The World’s End
7. Behind the Candelabra
8. Captain Phillips
9. The Way, Way Back
10. Enough Said

*As easy a choice as Searching for Sugar Man in 2012, Poetry in 2011, Scott Pilgrim in 2010. What’s the criteria? I could never find the right way to answer or refuse to answer that question re: movies, which might be why my music writing eventually took over.

Oscar favorites

Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Actress: Sandra Bullock
Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o
Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi
Original Screenplay: Nebraska
Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave

/// Until I find more time to write, accounting for my life with lists will be the primary function of this blog. Up next: a new mixtape; the 100 songs of my life (so far).

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